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Wednesday, May 1, 2013
By Rabbi Michael Levy, Board Member of Yad HaChazakah and Director of Travel Training, NYCT
In the Haftarah for Shabbat Behar-Bechukotai, the prophet Jeremiah presents a very elaborate analogy (Chapter 17, verses 5-9):
“Thus says G-d – Cursed is the person who trusts in man, and makes (mere) flesh his source of support, and turns his heart away from G-d. He shall be like a lone tree in the desert, he will not (even) notice when good comes; he will dwell desolate in the wilderness, in a salty uninhabited land.
Blessed is the person who trusts in G-d, and whose trust in G-d is. He shall be like a tree planted near water, which extends its roots to a stream. It does not notice when heat arrives, its foliage remains fresh; it worries not during a drought-year, rather it never stops producing fruit.”
The analogy teaches us, detail by detail, what it means to trust in G-d. For a person like me, journeying towards trust, it is an invaluable guide.
As the tree in the wilderness is deprived of physical nourishment, the person who turns away from G-d is deprived of spiritual nourishment. His roots – his sources of support, are so weak that he neither perceives nor benefits from spiritual nourishment even when it is available.
As I write this on May 1 at 9:30 AM, Radio Station WINS broadcasts the sound of a great agitated crowd. A bell rings, and the stock market is officially open. One minute later, Pete Toriello surveys the commuter situation, as millions hustle to make a living. What happens when the river of money runs
dry? Where are the roots?
By contrast, the person who trusts in G-d has a constant source of spiritual nourishment, even in a world where the good is sometimes not easy to find. (Our rabbis, interpreting Isaiah 55-1, “Let all who are thirsty come to the water,” compare water to Torah.) Well-developed roots can extend themselves to sources of nourishment that are not easily found.
Every year, when we read this Haftarah, I thank my father, Aaron Levy, alav Hashalom, for examining with me the tree that faced our kitchen window. He explained that its roots were so strong, and so persistent in their search for water, that they had extended themselves underneath the sidewalk and actually cracked it.
An important step towards trust, then, is planting oneself in an environment of Torah, the source of water for the soul. Unfortunately, for people with disabilities, the sources of Torah nourishment remain unreachable.
We extend our roots, but encounter barriers. Too many Jewish institutions assume that we must be automatically segregated, limiting our educational and social opportunities. Too many schools and shuls are not wheelchair accessible. Producers of text, from publishers to those who write shul bulletins, don’t take the time to make their texts accessible to blind and learning-disabled individuals. Interpreters for the deaf during lectures and divre (words of) Torah are rarely provided. Even when events are held at accessible locations, the lack of affordable accessible transportation can prevent mobility-impaired individuals from attending.
As far as I am concerned, trusting G-d does not mean sitting back and waiting for these barriers to disappear. If the roots of a tree can crack a sidewalk, then our persistent efforts will eventually eliminate or minimize the barriers that prevent many people with disabilities from participating fully in the educational, social, volunteer, employment and leadership opportunities that Klal Yisrael offers.
May G-d reward our trust in Him with the strength to extend our root systems to authentic Jewish life, wherever it is found.
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